Mar 022015
 
technology brings the age of the motorcar to an end

Despite the current hype over wearables and smartphones at Mobile World Congress, the real battle in tech is increasingly in the automobile industry; it’s no accident that smartcars were the start turn at the Consumer Electronics Show at the beginning of the year.

It may be however that the tech companies might take over the automobile industry as Timothy B. Lee in Vox suggests.

Lee’s argument rests mainly on the tech industry’s superior supply chain management – this is questionable as automotive manufacturing is several orders of magnitude in its complexity than PCs or smartphones – and the changing role of the motor car in modern society.

That latter aspect is probably the more crucial aspect, as car ownership falls and sharing vehicles becomes commonplace, design and manufacturing imperatives change along with the economics.

While it’s stating the obvious to say the incumbent automobile manufacturers currently have the advantage due to scale and experience, the same was said when Apple introduced their smartphone to compete against long established incumbents such as Nokia and Motorola.

Re-inventing the global automotive sector is a far bigger task than changing the smartphone or personal computer industry, although it certainly is going to happen. It may be though that Chinese or Indian groups end up dominating rather than Silicon Valley.

Feb 192015
 
the taxi industry is being disrupted by mobile apps

Taxis have gotten their ass kicked” says Hansu Kim, owner of San Francisco’s oldest taxi company.

Kim’s company, DeSoto, is changing the name it has held since the 1930s to Flywheel in an agreement with the taxi hailing app of the same name. The San Francisco Chronical describes how DeSoto and the city’s other taxi companies are finding times tough now Uber and other services have moved into what was a safe, regulated business.

DeSoto’s move is a sign of the times as older business models evolve; moving to an app based hailing service improves the experience for everybody in the cab industry and radically changes the economics of getting a ride across town.

The main reason for Uber’s success is being able to identify both drivers and passengers which improved confidence in the system. In turn, this changes riders expectations and taxi’s fare structures.

For companies competing with Flywheel the question will be do they participate in this service or do they create their own app. For the industry in general it makes sense to share the infrastructure but for uses it may well be in their interest to have competing apps with different levels of service.

As the levels of car ownership continue to fall, how taxi hailing and car hire apps evolve will drive the development of our cities through this century. DeSoto and Flywheel’s experiment is the start of many as older businesses adapt to a changing economy.

Feb 182015
 
Telstra_consumer_insights_centre_insight_ring_empty

Yesterday Australian incumbent telco Telstra took the media on a tour of its showpiece  Customer Insights Centre in downtown Sydney.

The company is justifiably proud of the facility that includes  a 300 person auditorium, broadcast quality TV studio, a restaurant, workshop and collaboration spaces.

Welcoming visitors is the centre’s Insight Ring, a nine metre circle-shaped platform that surrounds guests with digital insights mined from Telstra’s information services. Leading off the reception area are a range of displays showcasing the company’s products and capabilities including wearable technologies, 3D printing and Ged The Robot.

Marking the centre as a modern facility the display spaces where Telstra and its partners can show off technologies to industry bodies and prospective clients.

Ged, the Telstra robot

Ged, the Telstra robot

The previous space two floors higher in the building was beginning to show its age after seven years and the fixed displays of technology in the older facility dated the centre, something that’s a disadvantage in an industry changing as quickly as telecommunications.

In the new centre, the demonstration facility is largely screen based so displays can quickly be adapted to show off the technologies aimed at whichever industry they are pitching.

The fast moving technology world

The software driven demonstration centre

 

Andy Bateman, Director of Segment Marketing at Telstra, who lead the tour was proud to show off the current display that had been set up to showcase the company’s banking products.

telstra_client_demonstration_consumer_insights_centre

Bateman described how the facility can be quickly altered to suit the needs of specific demonstrations, this was a degree of flexibility missing in the PayPal innovation center in San Jose, which is more comprehensive in its displays but requires a major fit out to change anything.

Venture capital investor Marc Andreessen stated that software will eat the world, Telstra’s Customer Insights Centre illustrates this starkly.

However software doesn’t always have the upper hand, just opposite the Telstra centre is the Sydney City Apple Store. In some ways, the two facilities opposite each other illustrate one of the big technological and market battles of this decade.

View of the Apple Store from the Telstra Centre

View of the Apple Store from the Telstra Centre

For most businesses, software will define the future way of working but for the smart hardware vendors will still be making good money.

Feb 082015
 
Personal computer Dell manufacturer

Personal Computers cost one thousandth of what they did in 1980 reports Aki Ito in Bloomberg Business.

For the computer industry that’s been both a blessing and curse; cheap systems have allowed computers to become pervasive but at the same time the collapsing prices have destroyed the business models of those who built their companies upon the industry economics on 1980 or 2000.

Software has fallen a similar amount with computer programs now costing 7/1000ths of what they did 35 years ago. Again this has dramatically changed the structure of the industry with Google and Amazon taking over from Microsoft and Adobe.

While the computer industry is the starkest example of the collapse in prices due to technological change, it’s not the only sector being affected – almost every industry is under similar pressures as margins get stripped away.

Anywhere where middlemen are exploiting market inefficiencies are opportunities for new technologies to destroy the existing business models, Uber are a good example of this with the taxi industry.

With technological change accelerating in all industries, no business or its managers can assume they are safe from shifting marketplaces or new, unexpected competitors.

 

Jan 262015
 
management-sending-email-on-computer

As the scale of technological change facing organisations becomes apparent, managements are appointing Chief Digital Officers to deal with the adjustment. Is this a good idea or just window dressing?

Last week the Australian Federal government became the latest  administration to announce they will appoint an executive to manage the process.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Digital Transformation Office will be charged to co-ordinate the adoption of online services across agencies and state governments.

“The DTO will comprise a small team of developers, designers, researchers and content specialists working across government to develop and coordinate the delivery of digital services,” the Minister’s announcement stated. “The DTO will operate more like a start-up than a traditional government agency, focussing on end-user needs in developing digital services. ”

Minister Turnbull hopes to emulate the UK Office of the Chief Technology Officer which was launched with the intention of delivering streamlined sign ons, simplified government websites and easier access to online services in Britain; although the experience has not been a great success so far.

What’s notable about the UK experience is the CTO came with high level support within cabinet, which gave the agency a mandate within the public service to drive change.

A job without a budget

That the Australian CTO has no budget – its UK equivalent has over £58 million this year – indicates it will not have a similar mandate and will struggle to be little more than a letterhead.

When Digital Officer do have the support of senior executives and ministers, it’s possible to achieve substantial returns. Vivek Kundra, former Chief Information Officer in the Obama administration described to me in an interview two years ago how his office had created a dashboard to monitor government IT projects.

Kundra learned this lesson from his time as the US Government’s CIO where he built an IT Dashboard that gave projects a green, yellow or red light depending upon their status.

Some of these government projects were ten years late and way over budget, the dashboard gave the Obama administration the information required to identify and cut over $3 billion worth of poorly performing contracts in six months.

This is low hanging fruit that a well resourced group with the support of senior management can drive.

Looking beyond end users

A concern though with these CIO positions is they are only looking at part of the problem with the UK, US and Australian teams all focusing on end-users.

While no-one should discount the need for easy to use online services for customers or government users; digital transformation has far greater effects on private and public sector organisations with all aspects of business being dramatically changed.

In Germany a survey last year by management consultants PwC found eighty percent of manufacturers expected their supply chains would be fully digitised by the end of the decade, almost every industry can expect a similar degree of change.

The risk for CTOs focused on how well websites work is they may find the digital transformation within their organisations turns out to be the greater challenge.

Indeed it may well be the whole concept of Chief Transformation, or Digital, Officers is flawed as digital transformation is pervasive; it affects all aspect of business through HR and procurement to management itself.

Passing the buck

The great risk for organisations appointing a CTO or CDO is that other c-level executives may then believe those individuals are responsible for the effects of digital transformation on their divisions.

While Chief Digital, or Transformation, Officers can have an important role in keeping an organisation’s board or a government aware of the opportunities and challenges in a rapidly changing world, they can’t assume the responsibilities of adapting diverse businesses or government agencies to a digital economy.

Done well with proper resources and management buy in, a good CTO could genuinely transform a business and be a catalyst for change.

Regardless of the responsibilities a CTO or CDO assumes within an organisation, for the role to be effective the position needs the full support of senior management and adequate resources.

If a company or government wants to pay more than lip service to digital transformation then a poorly resourced figurehead is needed to drive change.

Jan 152015
 
project-ara-google-phone

The scale of the carnage Boko Haram has inflicted on remote parts of Nigeria is becoming more apparent every day and satellite imagery shows just how much damage the insurgent group is doing to communities in its territories.

Closer to home, Google’s Project ARA gets another outing, we look at how economies can deal with the jobless future, what a terrible aunt Ayn Rand was and how the IoT is going to sea.

The IoT goes to sea

At the CES show two weeks ago Ericsson launched their new maritime cloud service that promises to connect ocean going ships to the same services available on land

Google unveils more about Project Ara

Project Ara is Google’s attempt to reinvent the smartphone, the project came a little closer to completion with the company showing off some of its progress

Creating the innovation state

What do we do in a world where most people’s jobs have gone? Create an innovation state rather than a welfare state could be an answer suggests one economist.

The extent of Boko Haram’s massacres

Words fail to describe the horrors being visited on the people of Nigeria.

Ayn Rand was a terrible Aunty

What happened when one of Ayn Rand’s nieces asked aunty for a $25 loan?

Jan 142015
 
apple smartphone tablet pc

Links today have a bit of a social media theme with Twitter co-founder Ev Williams explaining his view that Instagram’s numbers don’t really matter to his business while researcher Danah Boyd explains the complexities of teenagers’ social media use.

Apple’s patents and why the tech industry is firing, not hiring, round out today’s stories.

Feel the width, not the quality

Twitter co-founder Ev Williams attracted attention last month with his comment that he couldn’t care about Instagram’s user numbers, in A Mile Wide, An Inch Deep he explains exactly what he meant at the time and why online companies need to focus more on content and value.

Apple gets patent, GoPro shares drop

One of the frustrations with following the modern tech industry is how patents are used to stifle innovation. How an Apple patent for something that seems obvious caused camera vendor GoPro’s shares to fall is a good example.

Why is the tech industry shedding jobs?

Despite the tech industry’s growth, the industry’s giants are shedding jobs. This Bloomberg article describes some of the struggles facing the tech industry’s old dinosaurs.

An old fogey’s view of teenagers’ social media use

Researcher Danah Boyd provides a rebuttal of the story about young peoples’ use of social media. “Teens’ use of social media is significantly shaped by race and class, geography and cultural background,” she says. Sometimes it’s necessary to state the obvious.